OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) – The Cruisin' the Coast street party in downtown Ocean Springs drew record crowds last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Thousands of cruisers and their vintage vehicles jammed downtown Ocean Springs. Chamber leaders said the turnout rivaled that of the Peter Anderson Festival, which draws more than 100,000 visitors every November.
"The crowds were really unimaginable. If you'd asked me a week ago what our expectations were, this surpassed them immensely," said Ocean Springs Chamber Director Margaret Miller.
On Monday, what many downtown merchants remembered most was the heavy traffic inside their shops and restaurants.
"Business increased," said Linda Nagel, a retail sales employee at Hillyer House. "Our three day total this year was beyond last year's, so we're very happy with that."
Hillyer House sells hand-crafted merchandise, from fine art to jewelry. The business attracted cruisers who wanted to take home a piece of Mississippi.
"They do shop, because they bring their wives and women always shop. And you hear them say they want something that's unique to here that reminds them of being here," said Nagel.
"A lot of the cruisers were looking for local artists. Marlin Miller was one of our bigger ones," said Mark LaFontaine, who owns "The Gallery."
LaFontaine said he was surprised by the business that Cruisin' brings. He opened his art gallery just four months ago.
"We did very well, especially with the jewelry artist and some of the other pieces that were in the gallery," said LaFontaine. "We had to be creative to get the cruisers to come into the gallery and see everything. And once they did, they loved it."
When asked about his first Cruisin' experience downtown, LaFontaine replied, "I would say it was fantastic. I just wish they could have been here longer."
The Ocean Springs Chamber is still crunching numbers to determine Cruisin's economic impact on the city. Officials said the event definitely revved-up some much-needed revenues. They credited better advertising, thanks to BP tourism dollars. They also pointed to more entertainment and promotions, and of course, the gorgeous weather for the huge turn-out.
"I know that our shops were incredibly busy. We have 26 restaurants downtown and all of them were full each and every minute that they were open. Some of them extended their hours," said Miller. "Cruisin' the Coast just met and far surpassed any of our expectations. This last week was really an incredible response."
Chamber leaders say some restaurants were so busy, they actually ran out of food. They say many cruisers stayed late for certain events, like the sock-hop, so the economic impact extended beyond the downtown area.